I heard this quote by H. Richard Niebuhr many years ago and have tried to remember it correctly, so when I saw it in Timothy George’s article entitle No Squishy Love, I had to snag it and post it here. Here is George’s first paragraph to his article:
In his 1934 book, The Kingdom of God in America, H. Richard Niebuhr depicted the creed of liberal Protestant theology, which was called “modernism” in those days, in these famous words: “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Niebuhr was no fundamentalist, but he knew what he was talking about. So did Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he named the kind of mainline religion he encountered in 1930s America: Protestantismus ohne Reformation, “Protestantism without the Reformation.”
You can see why I like it. His quote sums up so much of the evangelical church today. Far too many preachers don’t want to talk about wrath (George’s point) and in doing so fail to give the people a true and full picture of the God who is.
The problem comes when we use an anthropopathic term like “wrath” and apply it univocally to the God of eternity. Before long, we have constructed “a god who looks like me,” to use the title of a recent book of feminist theology. Then caricatures of divine wrath proliferate: God having a temper tantrum or acting like a big bully who needs to be “appeased” before he can forgive or, as is often alleged with reference to the atonement, practicing cosmic child abuse.
But God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s wrath is not like our wrath. Indeed, in his brilliant essay, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” British scholar Tony Lane explains that “the love of God implies his wrath. Without his wrath God simply does not love in the sense that the Bible portrays his love.” God’s love is not sentimental; it is holy. It is tender, but not squishy. It involves not only compassion, kindness, and mercy beyond measure (what the New Testament calls grace) but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil.
Hence the greater problem of not preaching faithfully on God’s wrath: we never understand the richness of His love toward us when we fail to see what once rested upon us before we were in Christ. We also fail to see what the world faces, and our desire to evangelize wanes because we truly don’t believe God means it when we are told to repent and believe. But He does mean it. Therefore, we should not only preach God’s love, but His wrath as well. To do any less is to present a God in our own image, instead of the God who is.